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Costume Legend Colleen Atwood and Composer Marco Beltrami Reflect On Their Careers

Costume Legend Colleen Atwood and Composer Marco Beltrami Reflect On Their Careers

This year at the Middleburg Film Festival, three time Oscar winning costume designer Colleen Atwood and Oscar nominated film composer Marco Beltrami were honored as the festival’s Distinguished Costume Designer and Distinguished Film Composer. Atwood’s tribute, which took place on October 31, featured clips of her costume work from films such as “Beloved,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Chicago” and more, followed by a panel where she spoke about her career and most recent projects in-depth. The night ended with a masquerade ball held in her honor. The following day focused on Beltrami, whose tribute consisted of members of the Shenandoah Conservatory Symphony playing live versions of Beltrami’s scores from the films “Snowpiercer,” “The Homesman,” “The Woman in Black,” “World War Z” and “A Good Day to Die Hard.” Beltrami also spoke about his work and process in between performances. 

Indiewire had the opportunity to catch up with both Atwood and Beltrami to chat about their most recent projects and more. Here are the highlights: 

Colleen Atwood on…


Being called costume design legend:
“It makes me feel like I’ve been around for awhile. [Laughs] But it’s nice to be called a legend. I think legends can be good legends or bad legends, but I’ve been doing this for a long time and have had the opportunity to really do interesting work in the film industry at a time where a lot of the work is less interesting from a design standpoint.” 

Being a grounded person: “One thing about costume design—and I think design in general—but especially costume design, is people have a misconception that it’s very glamorous work. And it is glamorous in the sense that you’re working with big movie stars and all the beautiful people are in your work world…but in fact, you’re out there with the people. When I’m working in L.A., I drive to Vernon, to all the areas and buy leather and materials and all the people you interaction with as a costume designer keep the world rich and keep it interesting—and keep you in the real world.” 

Her handbag line: “I’ve worked with leather a lot in my career, and I’ve had a lot of purses in my life…none of them quite right. There’s always something and I was like, ‘oh, I wish I could make one,’ like if this worked better and that worked better and then somebody approached me about it and I went ‘oh my God, this is great.’ It’s almost like it’s 3-D design, so it’s really a different way of designing than clothing but I’ve had amazing support with it…but it really takes almost a whole year to develop a handbag that’s a new design. It takes that long before you get from A to a product. So it’s been a fascinating curve for me because I’m used to working so fast in my designs.” 

Her interest in one day designing lingerie: “I like the architecture of lingerie. It drives me crazy because when I work in films I work with actors, stars and I work with people who are the extras, the people that come in, fill the room and create the ambiance—so I’m fitting them all the time and I see their underwear. They have underwear that’s nice and clean and all that, but it doesn’t fit and it makes me crazy because I’m like why don’t people buy underwear anymore that actually fits their body? It would feel better, it would make you look so much different—like the ‘60s when people still wore those kind of one piece panty girdle body smoothers…sort of what Spanx has done but take it to another level—I’m really into doing that.” 

The late Oscar de la Renta: “I’ve never met him, but I received from the CFDA [Council of Fashion Designers of America] an award two years ago and he got an award the same night. I passed him back stage. But his whole presence…it was just great to see a man of his age and stature just so elegant. You could really tell he was just a lovely human being.” 

Working frequently in the genres of dark/fantasy films: “Those designs are dictated by the material I’m handed. So I think that for me, along with those things, I like to do things with color and life to them. But I do like black. [Laughs] I like—even though they’re really different—from  ‘Silence of the Lambs’ to ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’…such different kinds of films. ‘Silence of the Lambs’ was really dark material, it doesn’t get much weirder than that. But the design itself…I take my jobs and my assignments from the directors that I’m working on so the material isn’t really what I gravitate toward, it’s just the people I happen to work with.” 

Working with directors such as Tim Burton frequently: “With Tim…because Tim is an artist and actually as an artist and he has definitely the ability to create dark characters—but in fact he’s a very light person, a very delicate artist on his own right. When you look at his paintings, they’re very light-handed, there’s a lot of light in them. They’re much lighter and quirky than they are dark. So it’s always a challenge to me when I work with him. I never know what he’s going to want because he changes all the time. I always try to push myself and challenge myself when I work with a director more than once to sort of not get into that ‘oh, I know what he wants’ vibe. I always try to go ‘I don’t know what he’s going to want this time’ and approach it from that point of view.” 

Big Eyes”: “I’ve known about the Keanes since I was young. I was an art student and we sort of went ‘oh the Keanes, that kitsch art’ you know, and I looked at it that way. I was aware of their radar, not so much what the looked like or who they were but more of the art of it because I was a snobby art student—as was Tim, but he embraced it in a different way than me. His approach to the casting and the people and everything was to keep [the film] as reality based as possible and having it be spare and not a designed-looking film. It was a different kind of challenge.”

READ MORE: Watch: Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp Steal the New ‘Into The Woods’ Trailer 

Into The Woods”: “It’s a very tricky, tricky kind of challenge, ‘Into The Woods.’ It was done as a play but I didn’t really reference the play. The story is a journey. The journey is sort of a metaphor for life. And also, I guess the saying is ‘be careful what you wish for’ because you don’t really know what you’re wishing for at certain points in your life. That was the idea. But I felt within each fairy tale that’s combined in the film, I sort of set in its own world, but tried to…marry them together in a nod to the musical where costumes interrelate and they’re tied together by color, by theme. I try to take the two things and make them work because that’s the way I felt [Stephen] Sondheim had done for the play.” 

Marco Beltrami on… 

Working with Tommy Lee Jones: “I’ve worked together with Tommy now for three movies. His movies are always original and try to say something in a different way than what’s been said before, [are] beautifully shot, no expectations for what the music should be. It’s very much a creative collaboration working with him, discussing ideas. My collaborations with him I think have been the most inventive for me. I’ve pushed myself in ways because I knew I had his encouragement to do so, where on some other studio projects I might be a little more conservative.”

Directors he’d like to work with: “I’m kind of jealous of Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan. His movies are, to me, the epitome of movie experience. I think [Quentin] Tarantino—I feel his movies are great and I feel like he sells it a little bit short by only using preexisting music, which is powerful—it works for me as a piece by piece thing—but it lacks the continuity that can make his movies even more powerful. And I think I could help him. I don’t mean it to sound conceited, but I’m a huge fan of his and I think we would hit it off well. I think we’d have a similar sensibility about picture and music.”

Working on horror and sci-fi scores: “I was never a horror movie buff. ‘Scream’ was the first horror movie I’d seen, but it allows you to explore things in a way than many other movies. Just the sounds of the instruments…in a creative way I really enjoy. Sci-fi too. The fact is that you can create your own world—something in the future, something that hasn’t been done yet—there’s no way that it has to be done, so you can come up with that. I really enjoy that freedom. So it’s not to say I enjoy doing only sci-fi movies, but I do enjoy it.”

A film genre he’d like to do a score for: “I love Westerns. I think I score every movie like a Western, whether it is or not. [Laughs] I’d say the only thing I really haven’t done much of is romantic comedies. I don’t know, maybe there’s a reason why I haven’t. [Laughs] I guess the closest I got was with ‘Warm Bodies’ but that had a lot of other elements in it. But down the road, maybe something.” 

Composing music for TV vs. Film: “For one thing, it’s usually a much more abridged schedule. You have to rely on your instincts, there’s not as much time for people to be interacting…I do like it. It’s usually not as much with real [live] instruments, sometimes you might bring in a player or two and work with them, integrate that into the score. I think the thing I like about is that there’s a lot of TV stuff that’s happening now and I find the material really inspiring. The speed can be a friend because it means less people can piss on what you do. But I miss the exploration of creativity [of film]. It works both ways.” 

READ MORE: Academy Award-nominated Composer Marco Beltrami on Scoring the Dystopias of ‘Snowpiercer’ and ‘The Giver’ 

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